CHICAGO – It was early in the second quarter of a tight game when Taj Gibson went up for a layup and Ronny Turiaf got involved.
Turiaf blocked the shot so hard it was almost violent. The ball caromed to J.J. Barea, who fed it to Kevin Love for an easy score. Moments later, the Timberwolves, up by three to start the quarter, led by 10 points and were in control, frankly, for good in a 95-86 victory over the Chicago Bulls at United Center.
It was as if that block sent an electric shock through the Wolves. Which, of course, is Turiaf’s specialty.
Monday, the Wolves lost starting center Nikola Pekovic to a sore right Achilles’ tendon midway through the first quarter. But they were still able to tough out a victory over a Chicago team that was 10-3 in January. To be fair, the Bulls, already without injured guards Derrick Rose and Kirk Hinrich, also played without center Joakim Noah, who was sick.
Still, the victory — the Wolves’ fourth in five games, and one that gave them a 3-1 record on their just-concluded four-game road trip — pushed them back to .500 yet again at 22-22 with two home games coming up. It also broke a seven-game losing streak against the Bulls.
Thank Kevin Love, who scored 31 points. Thank a Wolves defense that held Chicago (22-22) to 37.6 percent shooting.
And thank Turiaf. He had 14 points on 6-for-7 shooting, along with seven rebounds and three blocks.
“Just trying to bring my game,” Turiaf said, smiling, after his biggest scoring night in three years. “Set the screens, roll to the basket, play hard. Just be there for my teammates. It’s the usual me.”
It was the usual Love, too. Despite shooting 1-for-7 from three-point range, he reached those 31 points while taking just 17 shots; he got to the free-throw line 14 times, making all 14. It was his third-quarter free throws that kept the Wolves in the lead despite a stretch of seven-plus minutes without a basket.
Chase Budinger added 12 points and Corey Brewer 11, but it was Turiaf who, in a pinch, supplied the push.
“Awesome,” said Ricky Rubio, who had nine points, six rebounds and four assists. “He did everything we asked him to do. Even more. And all that energy he brought? Amazing.”
Said Love: “Ronny set the tone for us. He was our X-factor.”
After three games’ worth of run-and-gun basketball out west, the Wolves ran full-speed into a Bulls team that prides itself on defense and physical play.
But the Wolves adapted. They led by three after a quarter and by eight at halftime. That lead grew to 12 in the third quarter before that long stretch without a basket. Still, the Wolves led by eight entering the fourth quarter.
And then the Wolves bench went out and held Chicago scoreless for the first 3:55 of the fourth quarter, by which time their lead was back to 12. Chicago never got closer than five again.
The Wolves made sure of that. The Bulls — who got 20 points from Carlos Boozer and 19 from D.J. Augustin — got within 84-79 on Augustin’s three-pointer with 1:29 left. But Rubio fed Love for a layup at the other end, then the Wolves turned a Bulls miss into Brewer’s fast-break dunk and that was that.
And now the Wolves can get to work at yet another attempt to poke above the .500 mark.
“We’ve been there and done that all year long,” coach Rick Adelman said. “Now we have to build on something going home.”
Maybe the team can use another jolt from Turiaf, who could see bit minutes going forward should Pekovic miss a few games. That’s OK with him.
“I’ll just go out there and have some fun,” Turiaf said. “This is my season, and it’s dedicated to fun. To enjoying myself.”